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Just what does the Bible say about gays?

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  • John.Schott@phila.gov
    Just what does the Bible say about gays? The Age November 1, 2004 We can cherry-pick biblical references to homosexuality, ignoring the message of love, writes
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2004
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      Just what does the Bible say about gays?
      The Age November 1, 2004

      We can cherry-pick biblical references to homosexuality, ignoring the
      message of love, writes Nicholas Kristof.


      So when God made homosexuals who fall deeply, achingly in love with
      each other, did he goof? That seems implicit in US legislative
      efforts to oppose gay marriage.


      Over the past few months, I've been researching the question of how
      the Bible regards homosexuality. Social liberals tend to be
      uncomfortable with religious arguments, but that is the ground on
      which political battles are often decided.


      I think it's presumptuous of conservatives to assume that God is on
      their side. But I also think it's stupid of liberals to forfeit the
      religious field.


      Some scholars, such as Daniel Helminiak, author of What the Bible
      Really Says About Homosexuality, argue that the Bible is not
      anti-gay. I don't really buy that.


      It's true that the story of Sodom is treated by both modern scholars
      and by ancient Ezekiel as about hospitality, rather than
      homosexuality. In Sodom, Lot puts up two male strangers for the
      night. When a lustful mob demands they be handed over, Lot offers his
      two virgin daughters instead. After some further unpleasantness, God
      destroys Sodom. As Mark Jordan notes in The Invention of Sodomy in
      Christian Theology, it was only in the 11th century that theologians
      began to condemn homosexuality as sodomy.


      In fact, the most obvious lesson from Sodom is that when you're
      attacked by an angry mob, the holy thing to do is to offer up your
      virgin daughters.


      Still, the traditionalists seem to me basically correct that the Old
      Testament does condemn at least male anal sex (scholars disagree
      about whether the Hebrew phrasing encompasses other sexual contact).
      A plain reading of the Book of Leviticus is that male anal sex is
      every bit as bad as other practices that the text condemns, like
      wearing a polyester-and-cotton shirt (Leviticus 19:19).


      As for the New Testament, Jesus never said a word about gays, while
      he explicitly advised a wealthy man to give away all his assets and
      arguably warned against bank accounts ("do not store up for
      yourselves treasures on earth"). Likewise, Jesus praises those who
      make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, but conservative
      Christians rarely lead the way with self-castration.


      Theologians point out that that the Bible is big enough to encompass
      gay relationships and tolerance - as well as episodic condemnations
      of gays. For example, 1 Samuel can be read as describing gay affairs
      between David and Jonathan.


      In the New Testament, Matthew and Luke describe how Jesus cured the
      beloved servant of a centurion - and some scholars argue that the
      wording suggests that the pair were lovers, yet Jesus didn't blanch.


      The religious right cites one part of the New Testament that clearly
      does condemn male homosexuality - not in Jesus' words, but in Paul's.
      The right has a tougher time explaining why lesbians shouldn't marry
      because the Bible has no unequivocal condemnation of lesbian sex.


      A passage in Romans 1 objects to women engaging in "unnatural" sex,
      and this probably does mean lesbian sex, according to Bernadette
      Brooten, the author of a fascinating study of early Christian
      attitudes toward lesbians. But it's also possible that Paul was
      referring to sex during menstruation or to women who are aggressive
      during sex.


      In any case, do we really want to make Paul our lawgiver? Will we
      enforce Paul's instruction that women veil themselves and keep their
      hair long? (Note to President Bush: If you want to obey Paul, why
      don't you start by veiling Laura and keeping her hair long, and only
      then bar gay marriages.)


      Given these ambiguities, is there any solution? One would be to
      emphasise the sentiment in Genesis that "it is not good for the human
      to be alone", and allow gay lovers to marry.


      Or there's another solution. Paul disapproves of marriage except for
      the sex-obsessed, saying that it is best "to remain unmarried as I
      am".


      So if we're going to cherry-pick biblical phrases and ignore the
      central message of love, then perhaps we should just ban marriage?


      Pulitzer Prize-winner Nicholas Kristof is a columnist with The New
      York Times.
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